The Kids Are Not All Right

EMOTIONS

Much has changed since the 1970s: John Lennon is dead, "The Dukes of Hazzard" is in reruns, and children have more emotional problems than ever--a whopping one in five, one new study suggests.

A study in Pediatrics compared data from over 9,500 American children in 1979 to over 21,000 in 1996. It points to rises in child poverty and single-parent households as the two major causes of increasing psychosomatic and behavioral problems in kids 4 to 15.

According to Thomas McInerny, M.D., study co-author and pediatrician at the University of Rochester's Children's Hospital at Strong, the findings are not simply a product of the ever-growing list of labels for emotional problems. "We surveyed family practitioners and physicians from the original study and still saw an increase," he says. "These pediatricians didn't change how they viewed patients--they just ended up seeing more of them."

Overall, the study found that psychosomatic disorders like stress-induced headaches increased from 0.1% in 1979 to 3.9% in 1996, while behavioral problems like conduct disorders rose from 1% to 7.5%. The percentage of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) rose the most, jumping from 1.5% to 9.2%.

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McInerny suggests working to identify emotional problems early on, and that managed-care companies train more mental health professionals to increase their availability to patients. Now is not the time for health insurers to be "pennywise and pound-foolish," he says.

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